This is what it was supposed to look like.
All season long, the Rockets have mostly played down to their competition and struggled against the poor teams, losing 15 games to squads with under .500 records. Jammed in there are season sweeps at the hands of the lowly Brooklyn Nets and Denver Nuggets.
Despite the Wolves' 28-52 record heading into tonight, they were on a three-game win streak, and this was no gimme game for the Rockets in the lead up to the tip. It took all of four minutes of basketball to turn it into one.
The Rockets jumped out to 13-6 lead a few minutes into the first quarter and would never look back, closing out the initial frame up 38-21 and extending the lead all the way to 30 at several points throughout the game on their way to 129-105 thrashing of Minnesota.
James Harden was cooking like only The Beard can, scoring 34 points on 12-21 shooting to go along with 6 assists, and he earned some much needed rest during the blow out. Harden took off the entire fourth quarter (yep, he scored 34 in just three frames of action) , a welcome development in light of the immense minutes load he's been carrying since the All-Star break (40.0 minutes per).
Harden was also red hot from downtown, knocking down his first four triples on his way to a 5-7 shooting night beyond the arc, including this buzzer-beater to close out the first period.
Dwight Howard showed up as well, with the Rockets going to him early and often, as the big man racked up 11 points and 4 rebounds on 4-6 shooting in the opening quarter on his way to a 19-point, 8 rebound night in just 26 minutes. Howard was active, engaged and playing well off of Harden. Oh, what might have been if only it were like this all season.
The Rockets also got 21 points from Trevor Ariza, 11 apiece from Patrick Beverley and Josh Smith and 10 from Clint Capela to round out six Houston players in double figures.
The Rockets shot 55.8 percent from the field, including 15-30 from three, held the Wolves to 45.8 percent shooting (just 5-21 from beyond the arc), outrebounded Minnesota 43-40, and had the luxury of clearing the bench in the last stanza. Every active Rocket saw playing time tonight.
Coach J.B. Bickerstaff even unglued Terrence Jones from the pine, as he picked up a little over 5 minutes of garbage time to close out the game. He scored 2 points, grabbed 2 rebound and committed 3 personal fouls.
The Rockets move to 40-41 on the season and became the unlikeliest of Dallas Mavericks fans, as the Mavs helped out their cross-state rival by downing the Utah Jazz 101-92. The Rockets now control their own destiny. Win Wednesday night against the short-handed Sacramento Kings, and the postseason (and Golden State) awaits.
The Wolves were led by Shabazz Muhammad with 23 points and 21 from Zach Lavine. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were held to 12 points apiece in what amounted to quiet nights for Minnesota's two young stars.
The Rockets have averaged 129.5 points in their last two games, and while the competition has admittedly not been strong, the boys in red have been playing some good ball. If they sneak into the dance and keep this up, they could be a tougher out than expected.
Oh, and then there's this:
Harden has now scored 30+ pts in four of the past five games, including three straight, and 37 times overall this season— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) April 12, 2016
Anyone still think The Beard isn't underrated this season?